Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Instant Pot Matzo Ball Soup

These large, fluffy vegetarian matzo balls are 
made in an Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker.

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With Passover approaching, here's an easy way to make matzo ball soup in your Instant Pot. One of the secrets of making great matzo balls is to never uncover the pot while they are cooking. Well, there's no chance of that happening while they are locked in a pressure cooker! 

For this recipe, I'm using Manischewitz Matzo Meal, not a matzo ball mix.

Matzo Ball Soup
[makes 8 matzo balls/4 servings]

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker

For the Matzo Balls
1/2 cup Manischewitz Matzo Meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 eggs from happy chickens
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
For the Soup
8 cups water
2 stalks celery, small diced or thinly sliced
1 cup small diced onion
2 carrots, sliced
1/4 cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 Rapunzel vegetarian boullion cube
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt to taste

Make the matzo balls. In a small bowl, mix the matzo meal, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and dried parsley. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, slightly beat the eggs and then mix in the olive oil and matzo meal mixture and then two tablespoons of water. Blend until the mixture is uniform. Cover and place in the refrigerator until the mixture firms up, about 20 to 30 minutes.  

In the meantime, add the soup ingredients to your instant pot. Using the “Sauté” button, bring the broth to a brisk boil. Stir well.

Soup ingredients

Remove the matzo ball mixture from the refrigerator. With moistened hands, form the mixture into 8 (1-inch) matzo balls. Turn the Instant Pot off (it will continue to boil), and drop the matzo balls into the pot. Do not stir.

Immediately secure the lid, making sure the top vent is closed. Press the “Manual” button and set for 15 minutes at high pressure. When done, quickly release the pressure and remove the lid carefully with the steam venting towards the back.

I was surprised to see how big these turned out!

Serve immediately.

Per serving (2 matzo balls plus soup):  185 calories, 10 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 71 mg omega-3 and 973 mg omega-6 fatty acids*, 140 mg cholesterol, 5 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, and 721 mg salt (not counting salt to taste.)

* Fatty acids do not include contribution from the matzo meal since that information is not listed by the manufacturer. To increase the beneficial omega-3 content, use omega-3 eggs.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One Week Unplugged At Rancho La Puerta

Can you unplug for a week? It's not easy.

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Just What the Doctor Ordered
A few months ago my son Vaughn suggested that we do a little mother-son bonding at a in spa where we could get some rest and relaxation. He found a beautiful 3,000 acre property in Tecate, Mexico called Rancho La Puerta

Vaughn had been working furiously at his job for a while and really needed some time away. I had been recovering from pneumonia and working hard on 10 different projects and badly needed to disconnect. My husband Doug needed a break too and joined us mid-week. This was the perfect place for us to enjoy each other while resetting our busy lives.

Night Night Little iPhone
The first thing they hand you is a little sleeping bag for your cell phone. There are no TV's in the rooms. On the entire 3,000 acres, there are only a few places to get a WIFI signal and a newspaper but they are not well advertised. So we were totally disconnected!

This was a welcomed break for me as I've become a news junkie. I start every day reading two newspapers cover to cover and then have the radio or TV with some news show on in the background while I do my work. I watch news shows while I workout on my exercise equipment. By the end of the day, I'm totally aggravated and often in a negative state of mind, depending on how crazy a news day it was. I know this isn't healthy but it is hard to disconnect, especially with all the things happening in the world right now.

The grounds were filled with cactus and other native plants.
Sculptures were woven throughout the landscape.

One Week Unplugged
It's amazing how many positive things you can do when you aren't on your computer or phone or reading about or watching  the news. Rancho la Puerta offered a large selection of hikes, classes, and lectures every hour so we got to do lots of new things and hopefully we can continue to do some of these now that we have returned home.

Signs throughout the campus help
guide us to our next class or activity.

My Take-aways from the Ranch
Here are some take-aways that I got from the ranch that I want to share because many of these things can be done without going to a spa. 

#1 - Learn Something New
Probably the most fun part of this week was being exposed to all kinds of new things and getting reintroduced to others.
Vaughn took Cardio Kickboxing and Pilates. 
Both Doug and Vaughn joined me for some dance classes, like Zumba and Hot Latin Cardio.
Doug was also introduced to Pilates and Postural Therapy. 
Doug and I played Pickle Ball for the first time and are now completely addicted to the game!
I took a number of Feldenkrais classes which I've been wanting to do for some time.

Me and my son Vaughn (right) with our
Hot Latin Cardio Teacher, Manuel (center)

#2 - Sound Heals
This past week I was made aware of how sound effects our health and moods.
I listened to Gary Malkin talk about the power of Music and how some music can heal, deepen and enrich our lives while other music might have more negative effects. 

I also took a class on Sound Healing where they use the tones of quartz crystal singing bowls for healing and meditation.
Besides music and crystal bowls, I enjoyed the sound of the many water fountains throughout the campus. 

Crystal glass singing bowls used in sound healing.

#3 - Mindfulness
Perhaps the best experience I had this week was what I learned from the monk, Thich Phap Hai. I not only learned about mindfulness from the classes he taught, but I also learned something about stereotyping people.

I met this tall Australian on the bus on the way to the ranch. Head shaved and sporting a long brown robe and a fairly expressionless face, I couldn't imagine striking up a conversation with him. I knew he was one of the speakers but was a bit skeptical about taking a class from him. I cannot sit still so I've never taken a liking to meditation, so when Vaughn dragged me to the monk's lecture, I warned him that I would bolt if turned into a meditation. But the talk was incredibly interesting. The monk had an amazing sense of humor. He made me see things in a different light. I wanted to know more about Buddha and his teachings. He reminded me how important it is to be present - to truly experience each moment. 

The next day I attended another one of his classes. I was a bit concerned about going to a mindfulness class wearing my Nasty Women tee shirt but the monk made a point of walking up to me to tell me that he was a follower of the Nasty Buddhist Women Facebook page. At this point I decided that this guy is the coolest dude I've ever met! So the lesson here for me was that my first impression of seeing a monk in a long robe, someone so different from me,  someone that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, turned into a person whom I admired, respected, and grew to like a whole lot. There's an obvious lesson to be learned here.

#4 - Nature
Most of the hikes at the ranch started at 6:15 in the morning. Vaughn and Doug enjoyed these early hikes so much that by the end of the week, I willed myself to get up and go on a shorter hike that started at 7:00. Had I known how incredible this experience would be, I would have gone sooner and more often. 

But hiking, especially in Northern California, is easy to do and now I'm inspired to get out there and enjoy the air, the stillness, the wild life, and the mountains. 

Morning hike in Tecate, Mexico.

#5 - Feed our Body, Feed our Soul
The food at the ranch was all local, organic, mostly vegetarian food with a sprinkling of seafood throughout the week. This healthy diet was life changing for some of the visitors at the ranch but to us, it was how we eat every day. Even so, it was great not having to worry about going on vacation and then going on a diet when returning home. One thing they did at every lunch and dinner was to start the meal with a small, mostly blended soup. This is a great way to get lots of veggies in your diet and curb your appetite. I must remember to do that every day.

The dining hall had indoor and outdoor seating.

They had two nutrition speakers last week. One was Dr. Victoria Maizes who is the executive director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. I've heard her speak before at Andrew Weil's annual Nutrition Conferences that I've reported on in this blog. The other speaker was Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live and creator of the Nutritarian Diet.

Dr. Maizes was pretty chill and nonjudgmental. She believes, like I do, that one diet does not fit all. Dr. Fuhrman, on the other hand, pretty much dictated that everyone should eat his diet with the guarantee that you would never suffer a major disease. And if you did get sick, it wasn't because of his diet, it was because of some underlying issue that needs to be addressed. I'm paraphrasing of course, but I will say most of the crowd was pretty put off by his rigid message. Food is meant to be part of a daily celebration, to be shared, to be enjoyed. Yes, it should be healthy, packed with nutrients and free of toxins, as Dr. Furhman prescribes, but if you only view food as fuel and criticize others for not following as rigid a diet as you do, well, that's not healthy either. 

Lunch of roasted vegetable salad with turnips, sweet potatoes, new potatoes, eggplant, corn, zucchini, curried garbanzos, broccoli, mushrooms, and caramelized pecans.

#6 - Self Care
Last but not least, I was reminded to take the time to get a massage. Sometimes a year or more will go by and I'll forget to get one. Massages are not just for pampering - they are incredibly important for mobility, lymph drainage and release of toxins, stress reduction and more. Again, this is something I can do at home and for a lot less money than what they charge at a spa. Must remember to schedule a monthly massage!

Take the Challenge!
Try disconnecting for a week. Too tough? Start with a day. Put your phone aside. Only check your email once or twice a day. Don't look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Take all that time you would have wasted on social media and take a walk, sign up for a class, cook a new healthy recipe, book a massage, play some healing music instead of listening to the news, write in your journal (or start one), read a book, meditate or do yoga. My goal is to do "mindful social media". I'm not isolating myself from the world but I'm drastically reducing its hold on me. Let's hope it lasts.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a pickle ball court!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Review Of Cashew, Almond And Coconut Yogurts

There are many non-dairy yogurts to choose from.

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In Search of Dairy-Free Yogurt
Quite a few people have given up or reduced their consumption of dairy. Many are either lactose intolerant or allergic to milk proteins, some are vegans who avoid all animal products, and others may be trying to reduce their cholesterol intake. Whatever the reason may be, the downside is giving up this probiotic-rich food. But luckily today there are many non-dairy options.

Two years ago I posted a recipe on how to make Thick, Creamy Vegan Yogurt with an Instant Pot or Yogurt Maker with 5 Minutes Prep Time. This is one of my most popular posts with over 20,000 views! So I know that lots of you enjoy yogurt and understand its importance in our diet. 

My most popular post - making soy yogurt.

But this particular recipe, that includes no thickeners or added sugar, is soy based and some of you do not consume soy. I don't like making yogurt with other non-dairy milks because they usually come out more like Jello as they require added gums and thickeners. Recently, however, I've tried several ready-made, non-dairy yogurts that are soy free that are absolutely delicious. And although they contain some thickeners, they are super creamy. Here are a few that I recommend.

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This cashew-based yogurt (they call it Cashewgurt) is absolutely divine. 

Forager ProjectCreamy Dairy-free Cashewgurt

Cashew Yogurt Nutrition
One cup provides:
170 calories
11 g total fat
2 g saturated fat
0 mg cholesterol
5 g protein
14 g carbohydrates
2 g sugar
1 g dietary fiber
15 mg sodium
2% calcium
19% iron

It's organic
Very creamy mouthfeel
Flavorless, so you can add to salad dressing, soups, and other recipes
Low in sugar and sodium
Good source of iron
Dairy, soy, and gluten free - vegan
Has 6 live cultures

High is calories and fat
Not very tart like some yogurts
Contains "natural flavor" - whatever that means

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I love all of Kite Hill's products and this one is no exception.

Kite Hill

 Almond Yogurt Nutrition
(The container serving size is only 5.3 ounces so I've converted it to a cup for consistency.)

One cup provides:
211 calories
6 g total fat
3 g saturated fat
0 mg cholesterol
9 g protein
1.5 g carbohydrates
0 g sugar
0 g dietary fiber
0 mg sodium
0 % calcium
0% iron

Very creamy mouthfeel
Flavorless, so you can add to salad dressing, soups, and other recipes
Contains zero sugar and sodium
Dairy, soy, and gluten free - vegan
No artificial colorings or preservatives
Good source of protein

High is calories
Not very tart like some yogurts 
Not organic although the almonds are non-GMO
Only 4 live cultures

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You will enjoy this silky yogurt if you enjoy the flavor of coconut.

So Delicious Coconut Milk yogurt alternative.

Coconut Yogurt Nutrition
(The container serving size is only 5.3 ounces so I've converted it to a cup for consistency.)

One cup provides:
106 calories
7.5  g total fat
6.8 g saturated fat
0 mg cholesterol
0 g protein
10.6 g carbohydrates
0 g sugar
3 g dietary fiber
45 mg sodium
30% calcium
45% vitamin D
53% vitamin B12
0% iron

Very creamy 
Dairy and gluten free - vegan
Low in calories
Has 3 g of fiber per cup
Fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B12
Has 8 live cultures
Low in sugar
Contains organic coconut milk

Plain flavor is not flavorless - tastes like coconut
High in saturated fat from the coconut
Not very tart
Contains zero protein

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These three plain, unsweetened, non-dairy yogurts are all exceptionally tasting, unlike many I've tried in the past. The only disappointment is that none of them had the tartness that I enjoy in a yogurt. When I make my own soy yogurt, I can control the tartness by leaving it to process a bit longer. Also, they all contain some kind of gum and/or starch to thicken them. Once again, home made soy yogurt only contains soy beans, water, and live culture. But I still highly recommend each of these, especially if you are trying to avoid soy and you want to purchase, rather than make, yogurt. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Instant Pot Helps Make Perfect Breakfast Fried Potatoes With Less Oil

Use your Instant Pot for perfect breakfast potatoes.
Make a healthier breakfast for your Valentine!

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Breakfast Potatoes
I must have been Irish in another lifetime because I adore potatoes. Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, and especially fried breakfast potatoes. Fried breakfast potatoes, however, can take a lot of oil with added calories. They also take a long time to cook, and who has that kind of time in the morning? But the Instant Pot comes to the rescue to help with both of these problems. 

So if your want to make your Valentine some healthy fried breakfast potatoes to go with a tofu scramble or his favorite egg dish, here's a quick recipe for the potatoes. You can always jazz this recipe up by frying some onions or peppers before you add the potatoes, but I like my potatoes as they are.

To save even more time in the morning, you can make the Instant Pot potatoes the night before, refrigerate them, and fry them the next morning.

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Breakfast Fried Potatoes
Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes 3 to 4 servings]

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker with steamer basket and rack
Large Non-stick Fry Pan

3 cups (1/2" -3/4" inch diced) Yukon Gold potatoes with skin (~ 1 pound)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the steamer rack and 1 inch of water in the Instant Pot.

Spread the diced potatoes evenly in the Instant Pot's steamer basket. Place on the rack.

Secure the lid, making sure the top vent is closed. Press the "Manual" button and set for 4 minutes at high pressure. When done, do a quick release, carefully open the lid, and immediately remove the potatoes from the Instant Pot. The potatoes should be almost cooked, but a little al dente. They will continue to cook in the fry pan.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick (I like enamel coated), fry pan on medium heat. Add the potatoes and spread evenly in the pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender but crispy and brown on both sides, flipping over occasionally, about 10 minutes. 

Serve warm.

Per serving (3): 155 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 49 mg omega-3 and 487 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 3 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, and 3 g dietary fiber. 

Per serving (4): 116 calories, 3 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 37 mg omega-3 and 366 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, and 2 g dietary fiber. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

Make Your Own Antibacterial Foaming Hand Soap!

This homemade foaming soap avoids toxic
ingredients and is just as effective.

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Why you should Stop Buying Antibacterial Products
Everyone should be washing their hands often during flu season. It's one of the most effective ways of avoiding colds and flu. But you shouldn't be using store-bought antibacterial soaps. Here's why.

Most liquid antibacterial soaps, as well as certain bar soaps, wipes, hand gels and more, contained the chemical triclosan. Although this chemical has been used for many years, it wasn't until last September that the Food and Drug Administration banned its use in hand soaps. It gave companies until September, 2017, to remove this chemical from hand soaps and it banned 18 other antibacterial ingredients found in soap products. Triclosan is still used in some body washes, antibacterial dish soaps, and Colgate total toothpaste.

Triclosan can act as endocrine disruptors. Animal studies have shown that this chemical can interfere with the regulation of thyroid hormone. In humans, triclosan could possibly cause infertility, obesity, and even cancer. 

As we have seen time and time again, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to superbugs. The overuse of antibacterial soaps may also contribute to this problem. 

In addition, triclosan containing products are bad for the environment and are frequently detected in streams and some water supplies.

Soap and Water Just as Effective
There is no evidence that these expensive and toxic antibacterial soaps are any more effective that plain old soap and water. So why not use them? Today I'm going to show you a super easy way to make your own foaming hand soap that is safer and just as effective in protecting you and your family from germs.

Essential Oils
Adding essential oils to your liquid soap can boost its a ability to fight germs. There are quite a few that have this ability. Here are a few that I used in my soap today.

Tea Tree Oil has antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. It has been used for treating staph wounds and can eliminate MRSA from the skin. 
Thyme Oil is a powerful antibacterial agent and is effective is protecting against MRSA and staph.
I like adding Lavender Oil to the soap. After all, the name itself comes from the Latin word "Lavare", which means "to wash". But it's also has antibacterial and antiseptic properties and has a lovely scent.
Peppermint Oil also has a nice smell and has antibacterial, anti fungal, and antiviral properties.

Other essential oils that have antibacterial properties including basil, bergamot, cinnamon, clover, eucalyptus, lemongrass, oregano, and rosemary. So mix and match as you will with regard to the selection of essential oils and the amounts. 

Moisturizing Properties
When making hand soap, you can also add moisturizing ingredients that can soothe, heal, and soften your skin. This recipe adds a touch of jojoba oil and vitamin E. 

Jojoba oil is one of my favorites. It's actually a liquid wax and resembles sebum, which is produced by our skin glands. Because of this property, it acts as a natural skin conditioner. 
Vitamin E, an strong antioxidant, fights free radicals that damage your skin. Used in this liquid soap, it will help soften and moisturize your skin.

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Antibacterial Foaming Hand Soap

1 BPA-free liquid hand soap dispenser with foaming pump
Scant 3/4 cups filtered water
1/4 cup natural soap (such as Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap)
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
1/2 teaspoon vitamin E
5 drops lavender oil
5 drops thyme oil
5 drops tea tree oil
5 drops peppermint oil

Place the water in the soap dispenser (water ALWAYS goes in first.)

Add the soap, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and essential oils. 

Screw on the pump and shake well to combine all the ingredients. You will have to shake it each time you use it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Finishing Salts - Not Just For Steak

Finishing salts don't necessarily increase your salt intake.

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Finishing Salts
I received a beautiful collection of finishing salts for Christmas. I haven't had a lot of experience with them, other than a few unique ones my friends brought me back from Iceland last year. So it's been a lot of fun to experiment with them.

First of all, let's answer the question, "what is a finishing salt?" A finishing salt is an unrefined salt that is generally used on top of food, not cooked into food. They have various textures, some really big and chunky and some more delicate. Finishing salts can be infused with various flavors and can be used on top of every kind of food imaginable. I used to think that finishing salts were just used on top of steak and other meats, but they can be sprinkled on top of grains, potatoes, eggs, fruits, vegetables, even ice cream. My favorite dark chocolate truffle is topped with a chunk of sea salt.

Flavory's Essential Gourmet Finishing Sea Salt Collection came with six different salts. At first, I began to read up on what to do with each one, but I finally just put them all out on our dining table and started experimenting.

Place your finishing salts on the dining table
and start experimenting.

I found that most of the flavored salts were very subtle, except the smoked salt. What I enjoyed more than the flavors, were the different textures. I loved the big chunky ones, especially the Black Pyramid that gave me a surprise crunch and burst of flavor as I enjoyed it on my baked potato. 

Black Pyramid on a baked potato with Tofutti

These fun salts are from Iceland

The blueberry finishing salt from Iceland is excellent on ice cream.

Blueberry finishing salt on coconut Bliss ice cream

But Isn't Too Much Salt Bad For Me?
Sodium is an important mineral that your body needs to regulate body fluid, blood pressure, blood volume and acid-base balance. It is required for muscle and nerve conduction. If you don't get enough, you could experience low blood pressure, muscle cramps, dizziness and nausea. But many Americans use too much which could lead to hypertension and water retention.

The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,300 mg, about 1 teaspoon. Those at risk for heart disease are cautioned to keep their daily intakes of sodium down to 1,500 mg or less. 

But using finishing salts could actually lower your salt intake if you:
* Cook your food or recipe without any salt. 
* Then, top your dish evenly with a modest amount of finishing salt. 

The taste and texture of the finishing salt will dominate and you will not notice the absence of salt from your cooked dish!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Instant Pot Brussels Sprouts And Carrots

Cooking veggies in an Instant Pot can be tricky.

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Instant Pot and Veggies
Once you have an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker, you almost forget you've got other pots and pans, even though it's sometimes just as easy to cook something in your normal repertoire of pots and pans. 

One of the biggest challenges for me, with my Instant Pot, is cooking vegetables. If you get the timing wrong, your crisp veggies can easily turn to mush. So it's a matter of experimenting and getting to know your individual pot and each individual vegetable.

I suggest you keep a little notebook and experiment with different dishes (this goes for grains and beans too). Once you've perfected the timing for each of your favorite vegetable, you can then attempt to cook several of them together.

The easiest pairings are those foods that aren't that picky, like mushrooms. You can throw them in with anything and they will be just fine. But other veggies are a bit more tricky.

For example, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Brussels sprouts take a bit longer to cook than carrots but if you cut the Brussels sprouts in half and cut the carrots in larger slices, you can cook them together in 2 minutes. And if, after your cooking time, the veggies aren't cooked enough, don't turn the pot back on - just place the lid over the pot and wait a few minutes. 

But the key is experimentation. I have watched broccoli turn to mush in a single minute because I cut the florets too small so now I leave them in bigger pieces and only cook them for one minute. You can also play with the pressure, cooking them on lower pressure instead of higher pressure.

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Instant Pot Brussels Sprouts and Carrots
Vegan or Vegetarian, Gluten Free
[makes 6 servings]

1 1/2 pounds Brussels Sprouts
4 large carrots
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley
1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon Earth Balance or ghee*

*ghee is not vegan but is lactose and casein free.

Trim the ends off of the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Rinse and place in the Instant Pot.

Peel the carrots and cut thick slices on the diagonal. Place them into the Instant Pot together with the remaining ingredients and stir.

Hit the "Manual" button and set for 2 minutes at high pressure. When done, hit quick release and carefully open the lid. If the vegetables are not yet cooked, just set the lid back on top and wait a minute or two.

Stir and serve.

Nutritional Information
Per serving: 73 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 112 mg omega-3 and 100 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 4 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, and 160 mg sodium.